DCC greenlights USD442m of fines, proposes separate spectrum policy for govt entities

25 Jul 2019

The Digital Communications Commission (DCC) has approved the imposition of fines totalling INR30.5 billion (USD442 million) on Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for failing to provide sufficient points of interconnection (PoI) to Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) when the cellco launched in September 2016. The Economic Times quotes Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan as saying that the DCC will accept the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on the matter. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, the DCC last month approved plans to penalise the cellcos but had asked the TRAI to reconsider the level of fine, due to the current level of financial stress on the sector. In its reply, however, the watchdog pointed out that whilst it agreed that ‘penalties should be commensurate with the violation,’ it was unable to lower the fine as there is currently no mechanism for determining what level of penalty should be imposed for what licence violation’. The TRAI’s recommendations suggested penalties of INR500 million per licence area affected, equating to INR10.5 billion for Airtel plus INR10.5 billion and INR9.5 billion for Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, respectively, as the duo were separate companies at the time of the infraction. The operators plan to challenge the decision in the courts once they receive formal communication of the penalty.

Meanwhile, the DCC has proposed the creation of a dedicated policy for the allocation of spectrum resources to state entities. The telecom secretary noted that to-date the government has issued frequency rights to government-owned entities on an ad hoc basis, and in line with the regulatory recommendations but without a clear policy. Under the DCC’s proposed system, there would be a public portal detailing the available spectrum, along with ‘frequent audits of spectrum to ensure that no one is squatting on it’. If implemented, such a policy would provide a clear pathway for state-owned providers such as Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) to secure long-sought 4G spectrum.